Letter vitamins

I was struck by a television commercial for Nature Made vitamins that referred to letter vitamins. As opposed to what?, I wondered.

Here it is on the company’s on-line site:

How do you choose a vitamin brand?

There are lots of vitamin brands out there. For 40 years, Nature Made has been a vitamin and supplement company dedicated to quality. That’s one of the reasons Nature Made was chosen as the #1 Pharmacist Recommended Letter Vitamin and Fish Oil brand in the 2011 Pharmacy Times survey.

From this text, it’s clear that fish oil doesn’t count as a letter vitamin. Well, fish oil doesn’t supply vitamins; it supplies omega-3 fatty acids, and fatty acids are a class of nutrients distinct from vitamins (minerals and amino acids are two other classes). But you can see some piece of a categorization of dietary supplements in the pharmacists’ world. More of this categorization appears in the full list of categories in which Nature Made was ranked #1 in the Pharmacy Times survey (reported on here):

Letter Vitamins (A, B, C, D, and E), CoQ10, Omega-3/Fish Oil, Flax Seed Oil, Herbal Supplements, Diabetic Multivitamin, Garlic Supplement

Most of the things that follow letter vitamins on this list are not vitamins: flax seed oil is a source of another type of omega-3 fatty acid; herbal supplements and garlic supplements are taken for their (putative) medicinal values and are not nutrients; and¬†Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is another supplement used for its medicinal value. That leaves us with diabetic multivitamins, and that’s the clue: letter vitamins are tablets that supply a single specific vitamin (identified by letter), in contrast to multivitamin tablets or multivitamin/multimineral tablets.

So letter vitamin is a technical term in the pharmacist world. The Nature Made commercial quoted the term from the Pharmacy Times ratings; a reader of Pharmacy Times and similar sources would be familiar with the term, but ordinary television viewers probably would not be. I imagine that most people, hearing the commercial, just treat letter vitamins as a fancy way of saying vitamins.


2 Responses to “Letter vitamins”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    The “lettering” of micronutrients ended a long time ago – I think the last one may have been vitamin B-12, around 1948. You can label a pill or potion with anything you want to, under present “dietary supplement” laws, whether the pills actually contain what the label says or not; a recent review of “Coenzyme Q10” pills showed that most brands didn’t contain any, or contained only a minuscule amount. Pill store customers aren’t paying for medicine, they’re paying for magick. “Lettered” micronutrients cure beri-beri, ricky-ricky, and scurry-scurry, like we learned in grade school.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      All this is beside the point of my posting, which was to get at the system of categories in the pharmacist world. The validity of these categories is a separate issue.

      (According to Wikipedia, the last lettered vitamin to be discovered was B-9, in 1941.)

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